Jury duty no shows can face stiff punishment, but usually don’t

Jury duty no shows can face stiff punishment, but usually don’t. (Photo: KUTV)

(KUTV) In march of 2016, a 9-year-old girl was allegedly gang rapped. The three men accused of committing the crime were supposed to be on trial this week. Instead, the case against them ended in a mistrial.

It wasn't a piece of evidence that caused the case to be tossed. It was dozens of folks ignoring their mail.

Geoff Fattah with the Utah State Court System says 36 people just disregarded the court summons, leaving the jury pool too thin.

Fattah says that having one or two folks skip out on jury duty for a given trial is not uncommon. Having three dozen no-shows, or any other amount that forces a trial to halt, is very rare, he says.

“It doesn't happen very often but when it does happen, it does have some pretty serious consequences," he said.

The trial will have to start over, costing taxpayers and lawyers money and leaving a nine-year-old girl waiting even longer for justice.

Ignoring a call to jury duty is against the law. Still, court records show that judges in Utah haven't been very hard on no-shows. Most are simply admonished and thrown back into the jury pool.

But Fattah warns that just because judges have taken soft-approach up to this point doesn’t mean the trend will continue. Judges take stalling justice seriously, he says.

"Going down the road, if it becomes an increasing problem that people can't take jury duty seriously, then our judges might have to take stricter steps."

By law, not showing up for jury duty can come with serious consequences. About a half-dozen times per month, somebody who didn't show up is ordered to come stand before a judge and explain their absence. The judge can then choose to punish them by fining them, ordering them to do community service, or even throwing them in jail.

Fattah says judges understand that people are busy and that jury duty is often inconvenient. He says people who get a summons and can’t serve should call ahead of time.

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